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Peru: New university law to boost growth and competitiveness

Last month the Peruvian government approved a new university law, aiming to improve the quality of higher education in the country. According to Peru’s President Ollanta Humala, the law should provide tools to preserve the autonomy of universities and to fight corruption in higher education. He stressed the relevance of education for Peru’s development, economic growth and competitiveness, reminding of the very low positioning of Peruvian universities at regional and global rankings. 

Not everyone, however, has welcomed the new legislation. Its opponents insist that it, in fact, jeopardises the autonomy of universities and threatens smaller higher education institutions, who may no longer be able to meet all the requirements set by the new law. One of the main contentions is the decision to establish a new supervisory body Superintendence of Higher Education (SUNEDU) to oversee and regulate higher education institutions and make decisions on their establishing and licensing. SUNEDU will consist of 7 members elected through a public tender: 2 public officials, 3 university professors and 2 individuals with proven research and management experience, and its main responsibility will be quality assurance and working on academic excellence. Within 90 days from the approval of the new law, it will replace the National Association of Rectors (ANR) - not surprisingly one of the loudest voices against the new legislative measures. 

Apart from SUNEDU, some of the changes that the new law is about to bring include higher qualification requirements from the faculty: minimum master’s degree for those teaching at undergraduate and graduate (master) programmes, and a PhD for the staff teaching at doctoral level. In addition to a PhD degree, rector and vice-rectors will have to have prior classroom experiences, which was so far not mandatory. Students will have their share of homework, too, in order to obtain a Bachelor degree: apart from passing all the exams, they will have to conduct research and speak one foreign language. So far, BA was acquired automatically after passing all the required exams. 

For some universities, the major challenge posed by the law may prove to be the requirement to hire at least 25% of the staff full-time. Quite a few universities in Peru belong to the group of the so-called ‘garage universities’ – small and poorly equipped institutions providing low-quality programmes – which mushroomed in the 1990's when the creation of for-profit higher education institutions was fiscally incentivised by the government. Out of around 140 universities in Peru, 53 have been working with provisional licenses for years. 

Peru’s Minister of Education, Jaime Saavedra, says that the country is moving towards ensuring basic standards for all and towards an efficient and modern market. According to him, this law represents just one of the steps needed for more transparency, quality and innovation in Peruvian higher education.